Friday, March 28, 2008

From HAL to Dextre, fiction becomes reality

Robots have always played a key role in science fiction, from R2D2 and C3PO to Robby the Robot. Some are portrayed as friendly while others are represented as evil creatures. Science fiction has often been an accurate predictor of things to come and robots are no exception.

Who can forget the menacing and evil HAL from the classic “2001: A Space Odyssey”? Unlike the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” HAL did indeed have a brain and an attitude.

I was reminded of all this while watching the just-completed shuttle mission to the International Space Station where astronauts installed a Canadian-built robot named Dextre. The robot will conduct a great deal of work that would have previously been done by astronauts during dangerous spacewalks. Crew members are already referring to him in the first person.

Here on earth, robots and robotic devices are playing an increasingly important role in our lives. Robots have improved how we build things and even how we conduct commerce. You can already buy robotic lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners. The car that you drive was most likely assembled in part by robotic machines. There’s a very good reason for all this. Computer controlled robots never call in sick. They don’t take vacations or coffee breaks and once you buy them, they work for free.

Notice I’m mentioning computers in the same sentence as robots? That’s why all of this is so interesting to me.

If you watch local or national news on television you’re actually seeing robots in action. No, not the anchors, but the cameras pointed at them. They are robotic, and several of them are operated by just one technician. Often the cameras are pre-programmed by computers to move around the studio. Every time I’m interviewed on a news show, I get a kick out of watching the cameras zooming around the studio, automatically setting up for different shots.

Perhaps the most human-looking robot is one designed by Honda. Its name is ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). It’s about the size of a 10-year-old child. It can walk and run and is designed to be an assistant. This robot is a drone, meaning it doesn’t think for itself. Think of it as C3PO Version 1.0. ASIMO is expensive, about the cost of a car and not nearly as useful. However, it is a good experiment in technology.

Where is all this headed? Perhaps you saw the Steven Spielberg film “A.I.” (Artificial Intelligence) starring Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law. The film presents a rather apocalyptic view of humanoid robots. It doesn’t have a happy ending, like I said in the beginning; science fiction has a way of becoming real.

The difference between science fiction and reality is whether we will choose to program these machines or if we decide to make them so they can think for themselves. Personally, I feel safer with the former.

With that said, the way technology is progressing, especially for various robotic devices in the home, don’t be surprised if you see a Video Professor lesson title like “Learn How to Program Your Robots,” sooner rather than later.

A quick note on another subject, I had the opportunity to appear on both “FOX Business News” and “FOX & Friends” in New York City this week. It’s always a treat to visit the set of “FOX & Friends.” They’re a terrific crew and it is fun to work with them. I’ll tell you all about it in next week’s blog.


(John W. Scherer, CEO & founder of Video Professor, Inc.)

You can reach me at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Titles for tight times

I don’t know about you but I log on to news web sites, or tune into newscasts with more than a little trepidation these days.

The economic news, if one is to believe what’s being reported, isn’t pleasant.

People are concerned about the economy. You don’t have to look further than the rhetoric of the presidential campaign for ‘08.

People are doing a couple of things aside from worrying; like looking for extra cash and thinking about cancelling luxuries, like vacations.

As the Video Professor® library of lessons grows, we continue to add to our popular computer lessons with titles to help you get the best value from your computer. Two lessons that are certainly a good fit for these uncertain times are Learn eBay® and Learn Online Travel.

Let’s talk about eBay®.  First, step away from your computer and take a look in your attic, basement or garage. What do you have lying around in boxes and on shelves? Some classic LP’s, sports cards, mint condition magazines or comic books, sports pins or even a little red wagon?

What’s taking up space in your garage or basement could be someone‘s collector’s item and even more important, a few extra dollars in your wallet.

The eBay web site is a great way to buy and sell things. Buying is really simple you’ve likely done it already, but there are ways to become an even better buyer. What about selling? There are quite a few businesses out there that will sell things on eBay on your behalf, for a hefty commission. Why pay others for what you can do yourself? I’ve even seen ads in the newspaper offering seminars to teach you about eBay. Of course you have to drive to the location and spend several hours trying to learn at the same time as everyone else in the classroom.

Our lesson teaches you everything about buying and selling on eBay, from the basics of creating a sales site to producing the best listings possible to make what you have for sale into a hot item. All it takes is a little know-how. Our eBay lesson will take you step-by-step through the process of becoming a seller or even a savvier buyer on your schedule and at your pace. You might even join the thousands who have businesses on eBay, either part-time or full-time. Most of these folks are just like you.

eBay is a great opportunity. Maybe our lesson can help you become a successful entrepreneur on one of the most popular auction web sites out there today.

As I mentioned earlier in the blog, vacations are pretty high on the expense-cutting list. I understand why: they cost money. But maybe not nearly as much money as you think. More than one study shows Americans simply work too hard and don’t take nearly as many vacations as many other countries.

So check out our Learn Online Travel lesson. There are tremendous travel deals on the Internet, all you have to know is where to look. Our Learn Online Travel tutorial shows you how to book the cheapest or most convenient flights and cruises, how to find great places to stay and to eat and how to plan vacations for families, students or seniors. Plus, you will learn how to stay safe and healthy when traveling.

Planning a vacation online can be the difference between “we can’t afford it” and “when do we leave?” I prefer the latter, don’t you?

I appreciate that you are being cash conscious these days. But maybe, just maybe these two lessons can put a few extra dollars in your wallet or give you a much-needed break from the world, if even for a few days.


John W. Scherer

(John is CEO & founder of Video Professor, Inc.)

You can reach me at

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beware of rebate scammers and spammers

I’m sure most of you are excited about the planned stimulus check both the president and Congress hope will help spur on the economy. Checks are expected to be in the mail by May.

I won’t presume to tell you whether to spend it or to save it. It’s your money and it’s up to you.

Guess who else is excited about this? Spammers and scammers, they see the rebates as an opportunity to line their pockets with your money and even worse, your identity.

People are already receiving official looking e-mails and even phone calls, claiming to be from the IRS. Here’s the scam: the crooks e-mail or call you saying they can facilitate an early check to you and just need your bank account information for direct deposit. The e-mails have IRS logos on them, which can look very official. These e-mails are designed to fool the smartest and savviest of you all.

The Internal Revenue Service makes two important points:

  • Their agents or representatives will never call or e-mail you.

  • You won’t even be eligible for stimulus checks until you file your 2007 taxes.


These crooks can be convincingly persistent telling you that if you don’t cooperate, you won’t get your check. They will also try and get additional personal information in order to steal your identity. Sadly, it’s the elderly that are getting ripped off the most.

I’ve personally been a victim of identity theft. It’s one of the reasons I partnered with cybercrime expert and author Jayne Hitchcock on our Protect Yourself Online tutorial. It’s based on her terrific book “Net Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Jayne was a victim of cyber stalking, so you can understand our motivation to protect others from these kinds of blatant rip-offs and attacks.

I asked Jayne if she’d share some tips on what to do if you’re contacted by someone pretending to be from the IRS, or worse yet, if you fell for their scams, she was happy to help out.

Jayne said if you took the bait and gave away your financial or credit card information, here’s what to do.


  • Report it to the card issuer as quickly as possible: Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies.

  • Cancel your account and open a new one.

  • Review your billing statements carefully after the loss: If they show any unauthorized charges, send a letter to the card issuer describing each questionable charge.

  • Know your rights according to the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) for credit card loss or fraudulent charges: Your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If the loss involves your credit card number, but not the card itself, you have no liability for unauthorized use.

  • Also know your rights associated with the Electronic Funds Transfer Association (EFTA) for ATM or debit card loss or fraudulent transfers: Your liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss. You risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you.

If you gave out personal information:

  • Report the theft to the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion® and do the following: request that they place a fraud alert and victim’s statement in your file. Request a free copy of your credit report to check whether any accounts were opened without your consent. Request that the agencies remove inquiries and/or fraudulent accounts stemming from the theft.


    Equifax Credit Information Services - Consumer Fraud Div.

    P.O. Box 105496

    Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496

    Tel: (800) 766-0008


    P.O. Box 2104

    Allen, Texas 75013-2104

    Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

    Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.

    P.O. Box 390

    Springfield, PA 19064-0390

    Tel: (800) 680-7289


  • Notify your bank(s) and ask them to flag your account and contact you regarding any unusual activity: If bank accounts were set up without your consent, close them. If your ATM card was stolen, get a new card, account number and PIN.

  • Contact your local police department to file a criminal report.

  • Contact the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline to report the unauthorized use of your personal identification information.

  • Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of your identity theft and check to see whether an unauthorized license number had been issued in your name.

  • Notify the passport office to watch out for anyone ordering a passport in your name.

  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at

  • File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

  • Document the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak to or contact regarding the incident. Follow up your phone calls with letters and keep copies of all correspondence.

    The FTC also advises:

  • If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via e-mail. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the e-mail using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company’s correct web address. In any case, don’t cut and paste the link in the message.

  • Don’t e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a web site that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged these security icons.

  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.

  • Use antivirus software and keep it up-to-date. Some phishing e-mails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Antivirus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Antivirus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for antivirus software that recognizes current viruses, as well as older ones, can effectively reverse the damage, and updates automatically. A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It’s especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Finally, your operating system (like Windows® or Linux) may offer free software patches to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.

  • Be cautious about opening any attachments or downloading any files from e-mails you receive, regardless of who sent them.

  • Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft web site at to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft. Visit to learn other ways to avoid e-mail scams and deal with deceptive spam.

As you can see, Jayne knows her stuff, and this is why we were so happy to work with her on our Protect Yourself Online tutorial.

Let me reiterate, the IRS will never, ever attempt to contact you by e-mail or phone to ask for personal information.

If you get e-mail, delete it immediately. If you get a phone call, hang up right away.

Stay safe and enjoy your check!


John W. Scherer

John is CEO & founder of Video Professor, Inc.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Technology just keeps on charging ahead.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about all the new technological products and innovations coming down the pipeline. As usual, it’s a busy part of the business world, especially when it comes to innovation.

Big news, Blu-Ray Disc is the new standard for HD-DVD. I know I’m dating myself here, but this was just like the VHS and Betamax wars a generation ago. I believe that when Blu-Ray compatibility was added to the Playstation® 3 (PS3) the war was finally won. That and the fact that Wal-Mart® (the ultimate 800 pound marketing gorilla) decided to stock their shelves with Blu-Ray DVDs as well.

On the music front, the iTunes® music store is now the number two seller of music, following Wal-Mart. As usual, it’s the teen audience leading the way. They would rather download their songs than drive down the road to buy them. What I still can’t figure out is why the music industry continues to fight iTunes so much. iTunes is directly responsible for the success of many musicians, who are playing on stage instead of flipping burgers for a living.

Add Google® ( to your list of places to search the Internet. I loved writer Dan Farber’s thoughts about Google launches in a piece he did for called “Google Sites: What’s all the fuss?” In which Farber compares the way people review and react to anything new from Google the same way movie and theater reviewers do. When you’re both a noun and a verb, you’re bound to attract attention whatever you do, or don’t do.

Microsoft Corp. is cutting the price of its Windows Vista® operating system, which retailed last year at $399 and is now available at $319. Microsoft wants more people to try it, and people should. If you do, make sure you try our Video Professor Learn Windows Vista® tutorial. We’ll take you step-by-step and prove to you that while Windows Vista may be new, it’s just as easy to operate if you just know how.

I’ve read numerous articles on how advertising dollars are spent on traditional media versus online advertising. It’s something we study all the time. I posted recently that while huge shares of politicians’ campaign money is being spent on television and radio this year, the best return on their investments remains the Net. E-Commerce is the future. It’s cheaper simply because it’s more efficient for both the consumer and the seller. Dollars spent aren’t the true measure, dollars earned are.

Just for fun fact: Check out this story .The folks at Philips Electronics installed a giant Imagination Light Station canvas for kids to play with at Mercy Medical Center in Rogers, Ark. This looks like great fun for some deserving kids and I do believe a few adults.

Finally, this decidedly non-tech item, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre announced this week he's retiring from football on the "frozen tundra."  I know sports pundits and fans love to compare this player to that player and who was the best to ever play the game. None of that matters. Brett Favre was simply an exciting player, who played with a level of enthusiasm and professionalism seldom seen in professional sports, anywhere. His place in Canton is secured. He's won the Super Bowl, three consecutive MVP awards and has more wins than any QB in history. My Gosh, he had such fun playing the game and that made it fun for all of us. Heck, forget Canton, let's put him on Mount Rushmore!

Here’s a fun site to check out:

See you next week.


John W. Scherer

John W. Scherer is CEO & founder of Video Professor, Inc.

Monday, March 03, 2008

E-commerce and infomercials remain a good marketing mix

The past couple of weeks have been a mix of both new and old for us here at Video Professor. The online publication just ran a feature article about me called, From Infomercial To E-Commerce, Video Professor Starts 3rd Decade of Business.  Then a few days later I was back in the studio taping an infomercial.

Both E-commerce and infomercials are very effective ways for companies, like Video Professor, to communicate their message directly to you, the customer. I enjoy the opportunity to look you in the eye, and share with you the enthusiasm I have for my proven teaching method, which shows you how to get the most out of your computer.

E-commerce is one way to tell you about the wide-range of Video Professor products via the Internet. It’s as simple as logging on to You can shop for a lesson and have the option of either learning online with the lessons streamed directly to your computer or ordering our traditional CD-ROM lessons. Either way, it takes just minutes.

The infomercial is something we here at Video Professor helped pioneer. It’s a 30-minute television program where we spend quality time with you, showcasing the wide-variety of our available lessons and of course, getting you to “Try my product.®” Video Professor infomercials air on dozens of channels and at various times of the day and night. We’re a 24/7 society.  You’d probably be surprised by the huge audiences watching at 2 p.m. and 2 a.m.!

While the concept of the infomercial hasn’t changed much, in that we simply tell you about the benefits of the many tutorials Video Professor offers. What has changed is the technology and how we produce our lessons.

Sets, for example, are virtual. We have a studio at our corporate office along with post-production facilities. From time to time we rent larger studios off-site. However, the backgrounds you see on TV really don’t exist. They’re added in electronically post-production by our video-production team. What remains real is the quality and affordability of our lessons. That will never change.

                                                  How it looks in the studio

What you see in 30 minutes actually takes several weeks to plan, a couple of days to shoot, then several more to edit. Our marketing, Quality Assurance, legal and of course video-production teams are all involved. They’re all very good at what they do and the results show not only on screen, but in the huge number of calls we get after one of our infomercials airs.

                                     The virtual set after post-production

As with any marketing effort, we want to reach as large an audience as possible. E-commerce is certainly an increasingly powerful tool. Although, the infomercial also remains an excellent way to show you how easy our lessons are, and how they make a difference in the way you learn computer programs, how to sell something on eBay® or even plan a vacation. In the coming months you’re going to have many more tutorial choices. Stay tuned for some wonderful learning opportunities.

Above all, I enjoy being able to talk to you directly about trying my product. All of us at Video Professor appreciate when you do just that.


John W. Scherer

CEO & Founder, Video Professor, Inc.

You can contact me at

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